Governor Mike DeWine announced last week an unprecedented 95 percent increase in funding for protection of abused and neglected children, and Highland County Job & Family Services Director Katie Adams said the proposal will “save a system in crisis.”
“This proposed investment is very much needed in Highland County,” she said. “We have experienced a significant spike in the number of children in care due to the drug epidemic, with 119 children in the agency’s custody.”
So far in 2019 there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children entering custody, she said, with 32 new children entering Highland County’s foster care system since the first of the year.
Adams said placement costs are hovering around $2 million per year currently, a $400,000 increase in the past 18 months.
Highland County JFS Assistant Director Karen Sauers said the announcement made good on a DeWine campaign promise that Ohio “should not be last in the nation when it comes to the state’s responsibility for funding such a critical program.”
The State Child Protection Allocation was increased by $30 million annually, up from $60 million, to help counties cope with the rising costs of serving children in its care, and includes:
● $25 million for youth whose situation touches multiple agencies. Adams said many of the children have more than one need and require help from not only JFS, but may also have mental health and substance abuse issues in addition to developmental disabilities or interactions with the juvenile court system. This increase in funding, she said, should go a long way to allowing families to retain custody of their children when they’re placed into a treatment facility.
● $8.5 million to support grandparents and other kin care providers who unexpectedly find themselves caring for children. She said the figures for 2018 show that 550 grandparent families in Highland County were raising their grandchildren.
● $5.5 million to expand the Bridges program, which deals with youth who, in Sauer’s words, “are aging out of foster care.” Adams said that data she has seen from the state has indicated that when a child turns 18 and leaves the foster care environment, they are more likely to start abusing drugs and not graduate from high school, and in turn won’t pursue college or gainful employment. The Bridges program allows young people to remain in foster care until the age of 21 with additional support available to help when they age-out permanently.
● $4.5 million to expand evidence-based programs like Ohio START, and the 30 Days to Family program.
She said that Ohio START pairs up family peer mentors from Highland County Family Recovery Services with at-risk parents to help them get into the right recovery program and remain sober, so that their children can remain at home, or be returned to their home later.
“The FRS mentors are the client family’s cheerleader, so to speak,” Adams said. “They help them through the process and give them encouragement so they can start thinking to themselves ‘Hey, I can do this.’”
The 30 Days to Family program seeks out family members and relatives once a child is in foster care, she said, and is an intensive search to try to get children back with someone from their own family within the first 30 days.
● $2.6 million to help caseworkers in the field be more productive and efficient, which Adams said will help in streamlining the paperwork burden they face on a daily basis.
One example she shared had to do with a caseworker who had to drive to a neighboring city to get a paper signed, then returned to the office so it could be faxed to the appropriate agency.
She said the goal of the statewide document imaging program, which the Highland County JFS office began participating in last month, is to go paperless and become more efficient.
“Governor DeWine is standing up for the vulnerable children and families of Highland County,” Adams said. “This will help us address the crisis in our Children Services system by providing funding for rising placement costs, families struggling with addiction and mental illness, preventing children from entering foster care, and providing more suitable placements for children who do have to come into custody.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.